Black Flag

Unicorn / SST Records, 1981


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


If punk rock was seen as the kind of music which gave the finger to society, then Black Flag had to be the group which gave the finger not only to society, but to punk rock's forefathers.

One of the earliest leaders of the Southern California punk scene, Henry Rollins and company merged punk with the roots of heavy metal - and, dare we say it, a little bit of humor. Their 1981 release Damaged remains a high-water mark for the band.

As subtle as a car crash at times, Rollins knew he packed power in his delivery that would capture the listener. So, he knew when to turn on the intensity -- tracks such as "What I See" (which dares to suggest the spoken-word angle that Rollins would occasionally take later in the band's history), "Police Story" and "Depression" all demonstrate this well. And "Spray Paint" is a minute's worth of pure intensity that even suggested that Black Flag knew the days of thrash metal were just around the corner.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

This being said, even Rollins could occasionally turn up the intensity a little too far. Case in point: the album closer "Damaged I," a track which still frightens me today, 15 years after I bought the record (and nearly 20 years since it came out). Like John Lennon before him, this was Rollins's primal scream therapy - and it's uncomfortable to listen to. (It could also be I'm more accustomed to a version of "Damaged I", featuring then-lead singer Dez Cadena, on the 45 of "Louie Louie".)

Yet there was a side of Black Flag which showed they knew how to smile as well. "Six Pack" is one prime example of this, daring to suggest that Rollins would rather have his favorite brew than his girlfriend. You kind of have to have a twisted sense of humor to appreciate this. Then, there's "TV Party," which may make no sense unless you remember what television in the early '80s was like. It's all good fun, especially when you reach the unexpected climax.

Sure, the production isn't the cleanest, but Spot's work behind the board seems to fit the style of music that Black Flag was churning out. Guitarist Greg Ginn pulls out some cool riffs from his six-string, while bassist Charles Dukowski and drummer Robo lay down a powerful, if slightly inconsistent, rhythmic backbone. (Cadena was still with the group at this time, serving as guitarist and vocalist.)

Damaged is the kind of record your parents warned you about -- and the kind of record that anyone who enjoys the pure adrenalin of punk will absolutely fall in love with. This is one meant to be played at full volume, so the neighbors can experience it as well.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Unicorn / SST Records, and is used for informational purposes only.